CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire's Supreme Court reversed a man's drug conviction on Friday, saying his rights were violated when police seized him, and it also noted that race should be considered when judges analyze police encounters.
The court found in favor of Ernest Jones, who appealed a judge's order denying his request to suppress evidence that led to his conviction.
Jones was sitting in the driver's side of a pickup truck parked in a driveway. He argued that two Concord police officers seized him without reasonable suspicion after they approached. They said they were investigating a report of a suspicious vehicle and asked him and a passenger for their identification.
The officers eventually arrested Jones after they heard over the police radio that a warrant had been issued for his arrest. The officers searched him and found a substance that was later determined to be fentanyl.
The attorney general's office argued that Jones was seized only after police learned about the warrant, and a judge agreed, saying the officers didn't curtail Jones' freedom of movement at the time.
But the state Supreme Court said the attorney general's office failed to present any evidence that would have allowed the judge to determine either the content or nature of an officer's conversation with Jones. The court also noted that the state didn't address whether the officers had reasonable suspicion to seize Jones.
Jones, who is black, also argued the judge was wrong to refuse to consider his race in analyzing the seizure. The state Supreme Court accepted that argument.
“Although we reach our conclusion irrespective of the defendant's race, we observe that race is an appropriate circumstance to consider in conducting the totality of the circumstances seizure analysis," the court wrote.
The ACLU of New Hampshire, which filed a brief on the case, said Friday that courts have become increasingly receptive to considering race as a factor in analyses related to police encounters.
“Police seizures of people of color is something that happens more than people realize, and it is often hard to see how race plays a role in whether someone feels ‘free to leave' if one has never experienced it — so this public acknowledgement is encouraging," Joseph Lascaze of the ACLU said in a statement.